Feb. 16 (UPI) -- Gold and silver medal-winning gymnast Laurie Hernandez has confirmed she is training again, hoping to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
"It's exciting, it's hard, it's a challenge, but I am so happy to be back. I love the sport," the 18-year-old athlete told UPI, adding she feels less pressure this time.
"Now, I get to go out and try new things and just go out there and have a good time," she said. "The fact that I'm a little older is definitely helpful. I feel like I've learned a lot these past couple of years after the Olympics finished, and I'm going into it with a new mindset."
After taking home medals at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Hernandez went on to compete in -- and ultimately win -- Season 23 of ABC's competition show, Dancing with the Stars.
Partnered with professional dancer Val Chmerkovskiy, Hernandez charmed viewers and judges with her boundless energy, strength and grace.
Her experience on DWTS increased her confidence by challenging her to memorize and then perform new routines each week for a live television audience.
"I had to go out there and be this confident little kid who acted like she knew exactly what she was doing. It was kind of like, 'Fake it 'til you make it.' If you fake it long enough, your body starts to really react to that," she said.
The New Jersey native, who is of Puerto Rican descent, is regarded by many as a positive role model for young girls. A commentator for Season 1 of Universal Kids' American Ninja Warrior Junior obstacle-course program in 2018, Hernandez also wrote the uplifting children's book, She's Got This, and was honored by Mattel with a Barbie doll crafted in her likeness.
"This is not something that I would have thought I'd have right now," she said of her accomplishments.
"Having your own Barbie and having a children's book out, it's crazy. I just remember being widely impacted by the things that I had when I was a kid, and now I get to do that for someone else."
Hernandez said she walked the runway for the American Heart Association's recent Go Red for Women fashion show because she has loved ones who suffer from heart disease and she wants to encourage women to take care of themselves by eating well-balanced meals, healthful snacks and exercising.
"It's something that is definitely dear to my heart," she said, adding she tries to focus on her own health, even when she is traveling and busy juggling various projects.
"Just making sure that I'm eating when I'm hungry," Hernandez said. "It's making sure I'm planning my meals. Especially, as an athlete, we have to make sure that we are eating a lot, but also eating the right things."